Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Sweet, but Burns Off Quickly


Why do filmmakers insist on remaking classics? It seems to be all the rage these days, especially by those who can make any movie they want. I’m not saying they always fail (I did give a good review to War of the Worlds, remember?), but can you really best what is best already? If anything, you just make the original more endearing. Tim Burton has done this before with his remake of Planet of the Apes (which I didn’t like) and he ventures again into familiar territory with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, based on Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s story.

Recluse Willie Wonka makes the best candy in the world in his immense fortress-like factory. A contest will allow 5 children to visit his secretive plant if they can find a golden ticket in one of Wonka’s candy bars. Poverty-stricken Charlie Bucket’s one wish is to find a ticket and be able to visit the wonderful candy factory that he loves. He does, but so do four brats determined to win the “special prize” Wonka has promised to one of the children. As they enter the factory with the adult of their choice, what will the mysterious Wonka really be like, and how will the children react to treats beyond anything imaginable?

Of course there are going to be comparison to Mel Stuart’s Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), it’s just unavoidable. Fortunately, the newer version has it’s charms and is worth seeing, especially if you love Burton’s body of work.

Two performances are at the center of this movie, Johnny Depp as Willie Wonka and Freddie Highmore as the loveable Charlie Bucket. Highmore (Finding Neverland) is perfect casting, a cute, sweet, innocent boy who first wants his family to be happy and healthy, and then to see the inside of that wonderful factory. He really hits all of the right notes-we love him and want him to succeed and take his family with him.

Veteran (and Burton regular) Depp is always wonderful to watch, but the way he choses to play Wonka feels a bit off. Granted, Wonka is a bit off, but when Depp greets five small children with pale skin, bobbed hair, high voice and velvet suit, you start to wonder if you’re really watching Michael Jackson and the Neverland Ranch. It’s kinda creepy. He does grow a bit on you, but you don’t want to get into his head like you did with Gene Wilder in the original. You just feel safer keeping him at a distance.

The remaining kids (and their parents) are wonderfully written and acted, but they are mostly stereotypes. The standouts here are Annasophia Robb (Because of Winn-Dixie), who seems to be channeling Dakota Fanning, and Jordan Fry who’s smart, mean, and always put in his place by Wonka (“Mumbler!”).

Unique production design (with a typically gothic bent) has always been artist-turned-filmmaker Burton’s trademark, and the same is true here. Each room in the Chocolate Factory is a work of art in itself, with curvy lines and garish color (except for one room which is cleaner than any clean room). Also pay attention to Charlie’s house, it’s a classic Burton image.

Computer effects are also used well. The factory is practically a cartoon anyway, so CGI use actually benefits the look instead of taking away. I was also impressed by the seamless Oompa-Loompa reproductions, all played by one actor (Deep Roy).

This version of the book will likely please fans of Burton and the original source material (it’s more faithful than the first movie), but it also leaves the mind rather soon after leaving the theater. I liked it, but too much candy makes me sleepy.

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